Over a 10-year period, law enforcement agencies across Texas and California failed to report hundreds of fatal officer-involved shootings, according to research out of Texas State University in San Marcos.
“Those are the only two states that have required reporting to a central authority—in both cases, the Attorney General’s Office,” Howard Williams, one of the report’s authors, said in an interview on WNYC’s The Takeaway. Williams is a Texas State University professor (and former San Marcos police chief). Williams, along with a TX State colleague, Scott Bowman, and another co-author Jordan Taylor Jung, gathered data on killings by law enforcement officers in both states from news stories, press releases from police departments, and other outlets.
The researchers found that California was missing about 440 (30%) of the total officer-involved fatal shootings between 2005-2015. Agencies in Texas failed to report around 220 deaths.
Between the two states, the LA County Sheriff’s Department was the agency with the largest number of un-reported fatalities.
The LASD’s spokeswoman, Nicole Nishida, told the Houston Chronicle’s Lise Olsen (who broke the story) that many of the department’s 34 missing fatalities were due to a “clerical error” caused by a switch in reporting forms. Four deaths between 2013-2014 were reportedly not connected to that administrative error, however.
Following the LASD, the Fresno Police Department had 24 deaths that were not reported to the AG’s Office between 2005-2015. After that, the Los Angeles Police Department failed to report 21 fatalities, the Houston PD missed 16 deaths, and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and Harris County Sheriff’s Department (in TX) each left out 12 officer-involved deaths.
The rest of the departments had fewer than 10 missing cases each.
Failure to report hundreds of deaths – because police officials ignored or misunderstood the reporting laws – has effectively undermined ongoing efforts to identify the causes of fatal police shootings and identify potential reforms, experts said.
“We’re not really blaming anyone – this is an incredibly complex problem,” said Williams, who began his research after retiring as police chief in San Marcos last year. “But it’s really hard for us to go back and change policy, improve training or purchase new equipment “when you simply lack the data to even know what’s going on.”
In addition to requiring reports on use-of-force and in-custody death, both California and Texas also recently passed new laws requiring departments to report all shooting incidents, whether those shot survive or die. In Texas, the new police shooting law took effect in 2015 and the attorney general’s office has contacted all departments and tried to boost compliance with both laws, said Kayleigh Lovvorn, an office spokeswoman. But enforcement falls to individual district attorney’s offices.
The Texas State study cited a dozen fatalities unreported by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. One of those involved the 2015 death of a 24-year-old shot by an off-duty deputy outside the Chapa nightclub in northwest Houston.
A sheriff’s spokesman, Ryan Sullivan, said the homicide happened in Houston and was investigated by HPD. But under Texas law, the officer’s employer generally files a custodial death report and the sheriff’s office did not do so. Sullivan said that was the only report that had not been filed under Sheriff Ron Hickman, who took office in May 2015.
Brenda Gonzalez, a spokesman for the California Attorney General’s Office, said via email that the office already has been asking police agencies to file missing reports as part of a new OpenJustice data portal initiative, but she emphasized that California’s custodial death law has “no explicit enforcement mechanism.”
In all, 180 California different police agencies failed to file reports on citizens shot and killed by police. Fresno Deputy Chief Robert Nevarez pledged that his department would belatedly provide missing custodial death reports for 24 deaths. He said analysts in his agency unintentionally misinterpreted state law for years, wrongly assuming it applied only to jail deaths and not officer-involved shootings.
“At this time, it doesn’t look like anything intentional or malicious – it was an interpretation of what should have been reported,” Nevarez said.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Commission approved proposals from the commission’s president, Matt Johnson Commissioner Sandra Figueroa-Villa that aim to reduce fatal use-of-force and increase transparency after officer-involved shootings.
The commissioners voted to increase role-playing training that employs tense, real-world scenarios to help officers practice de-escalation. Commissioners also want the LAPD to gather public input on whether to a video of a shooting should be released. Figueroa-Villa pointed out that following a shooting, community members often have questions about the circumstances of the fatal use-of-force and whether it was necessary. “I believe transparency is vitally important in addressing those concerns,” said Figueroa-Villa.
Commissioners also approved a proposal to speed up the public release of information about incidents. The proposals were inspired by an 38-page report from the Office of the Inspector General.
The OIG traveled to Las Vegas, Dallas, San Diego, and Washington DC to examine those police departments’ policies on use of force, investigations, and training compared with those of the LAPD.
The Inspector General found that the LAPD limits information released after a shooting to details like time and location, the reason officers responded, and the condition of officers and suspects involved. The report found Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) is far more transparent following officer-involved shootings, releasing a good deal of information—quickly—to the public. Around 48 hours after a shooting, the LVPD publicly releases names, ranks, tenure, and ages of involved officers.
By day three, the LVMPD undersheriff conducts media briefing with a presentation that includes basic information about the incident, 911 call recordings, and video evidence, as well as detailed account of the officer-involved-shooting and the events leading up to the shooting, including what weapon was used, how many rounds were fired, and whether body cameras were equipped and turned on. The LVPD presentation also includes photos of the crime scene “with the locations of the parties and the distances between them marked,” and evidence recovered from the location.
The Dallas PD, Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), and the LVPD require officers to exhaust all reasonable alternatives before using deadly force. The LVPD specifically uses de-escalation language in its use-of-force policy: “When use of force is needed, officer will assess each incident to determine, based on policy, training and experience, which use of force option will de-escalate the situation and bring it under control in a safe and prudent manner.” While the LAPD teaches recruits to exhaust non-lethal force options before employing deadly force, that concept was removed from the department’s use-of-force policy when it was revised seven years ago.
LAPD officials now have 90 days to report back with policies addressing the commission’s proposals.
Saturday’s fatal shooting of 18-year-old Carnell Snell Jr.—known as CJ—by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department has sparked two days of demonstrations and vigils by community members who viewed the shooting as yet another example of officers too quick to fire on black and Latino men in tense situations.
The protests caused a citywide tactical alert to be called just before 10 p.m. Sunday night. Officers described the original Sunday protests and vigils as “peaceful,” but said that the mood changed when individuals whom they described as “outside agitators” arrived and, according to the police, began jumping on the roofs of cars, and engaging in other forms of vandalism.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced Monday that Snell was shot and killed after he allegedly turned toward officers with a gun in his hand. According to Beck, a loaded .40 mm handgun was recovered a few feet from Snell’s body. The gun had not been fired. (SEE UPDATE BELOW)
The officers involved were not wearing body cams according to Beck.
The incident began when officers cruising in the area of 108th Street and Western Avenue saw a car they thought might be stolen, and followed the vehicle, which was a light blue Nissan, and appeared to have one passenger, which they now believe was Snell. When Snell and the driver bailed from the car and took off in opposite directions, officers pursued Snell. Various neighbors and Snell’s sister, Trenell Snell, claim to have seen part of the pursuit that led to the shooting, which took in back of a house on 107th Street.
Hot-running emotions over Snell’s death were further stoked by the death of a Latino man shot by officers around 5 p.m. on Sunday, after police responded to a report of a male with a gun near 48th Street and Ascot Avenue. The gun, which the man allegedly pointed at officers, turned out to be an orange-tipped replica, the tip of which had been colored black, according to police accounts.* In the case of the second shooting, officers reportedly did have operational body cameras.
Beck described the investigations of Snell’s death, and that of the man killed in the Sunday shooting, as “fluid and ongoing.”
Reporters and other observers who examined the scene of Snell’s shooting in the backyard of a home in the 1700 block of 107th Street said they observed multiple bullet holes in the side of the house and another hole in an ajacent window.
Due to conflicting stories about whether or not Carnell Snell was carrying a gun during his run from police, on Tuesday Chief Charlie Beck released a short surveillance video that reportedly depicts Snell a few moments before he was shot. Snell is running in the parking lot of a convince store before disappearing behind the store building. A gun can clearly be seen in his hand. Police can be seen running after Snell after he disappears from view.
After the release of the video, Tuesday morning’s police commission meeting was repeatedly disrupted by upset protester, who shouted that if the LAPD could release this video, they could release others. At the same meeting, commission president Matt Johnson stated that, within two weeks, he will recommend a process for the commission to evaluate the Los Angeles Police Department’s video policy, reported the LA Times’ Kate Mather, who was tweeting from the meeting.
NOTE: LA Times reporters Kate Mather, Cindy Chang, Matt Hamilton and James Queally have been following the situation with multiple stories including those here and here and here.
The photo of Carnell Snell Jr. was acquired from Facebook.
*CORRECTIONS:Monday, 3:50 pm: In an earlier draft we incorrectly wrote that the tip of the replica gun was still orange. It was painted or colored black prior to the time of the shooting.
Monday, 6:40 p.m. We also left out the fact that the allegation that Snell had a gun and, more importantly, that he pointed the gun at police, is just that: an unproven allegation. The oversight has since been corrected.
LAPD COMMISSIONER WANTS “REAL AND MEANINGFUL DIALOGUE” ABOUT BIAS WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Commission passed a motion calling for an in-depth look at how the LAPD deals with bias complaints from citizens. Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill introduced the motion after an Internal Affairs Quarterly Report revealed that, once again, the department has not upheld any complaints of biased policing, which includes a racial, gender, disability, anti-LGBTQ, and other forms of discrimination.
According to the latest IA report, there were 209 reports of biased policing in the first half of 2016, none of which were sustained. In fact, none of the more than 1,500 citizen complaints of bias since 2013 have been upheld by the department.
The motion directs department officials to compare the LAPD’s results and complaint-handling processes with those of police departments in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Dallas, and Baltimore. Department officials will collect information on how each department defines biased policing or racial profiling, the number of complaints against officers and how many of those complaints were upheld, as well as how many sworn each department has and the demographics of the cities they police.
Officials are to report back to the commission at a community meeting to be held on November 1.
“My goal here is to get us beyond the limitations, which seem obvious, of relying on a single metric, that is to say just the numbers captured” by the quarterly IA reports, McClain-Hill said.
The motion also seeks information on how the LAPD identifies bias in potential officers during the recruitment process, and what kind—and how many hours—of training recruits in the academy receive regarding biased policing and implicit bias. McClain-Hill also requests a status update on implicit bias training provided to active officers.
While McClain Hill said she hopes for “real and meaningful dialogue to serve as the basis for real and meaningful policymaking, she also stressed that the focus on bias does not imply that officers are showing up to work “for any reason other than to do the very best they can protecting this city.”
LA MAYOR TAPS LIBERTY HILL PREZ FOR LA POLICE COMMISSION SEAT
On Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti nominated Shane Murphy Goldsmith to replace outgoing Kathleen Kim on the LA Police Commission.
Goldsmith is a member of the LA Homeless Services Authority Board of Commissioners, the President and CEO of Liberty Hill Foundation, and co-chair of the California Executive Alliance for Boys and Men of Color in Southern California.
Before Goldsmith started working at Liberty Hill, she worked under (then) City Council President Eric Garcetti, as a senior advisor, and focused on housing, public safety, the budget, and LGBTQ issues. Goldsmith also served as the executive director of an affordable housing development group called PATH Ventures.
Goldsmith has “a well-earned reputation for fair-mindedness, and a deep sense of compassion that informs everything she does,” Mayor Garcetti said. “She is a thoughtful leader who has worked closely with the officers who serve L.A.’s neighborhoods, and who truly understands the urgency of conversations about the future of law enforcement, how and when deadly force should be used, and strengthening trust between the LAPD and communities of color.”
Kim, who is stepping down after serving on the commission for three years, is a law professor and expert on immigration and human trafficking.
Garcetti praised Kim for “fighting to protect and improve the LAPD’s relationship with L.A.’s immigrant communities, and playing a key role in developing the Department’s homelessness policy.”
The LA City Council still has to officially confirm Goldsmith to the commission.
INMATES KICK OFF MASSIVE NATIONWIDE PRISON STRIKE OVER PRISON SLAVERY
Prisoners across the US are conducting a coordinated protest against conditions inside America’s prisons, including forced prison labor that either doesn’t pay inmates anything at all, or pays them pennies per hour.
The strike was largely organized by the Free Alabama Movement, a prisoner-led human rights group, which designated Friday, September 9, as a National Day of Solidarity to End Prison Slavery. All inmates at Holman Prison, FAM’s main hub, peacefully declined to show up to their prison jobs Friday, leaving officers to take on the work.
“To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement,” the FAM leaders write.
Inmates are reportedly striking in 40 correctional facilities in 24 states including California. The strikers are joined by people protesting and rallying in cities nationwide including Portland, Los Angeles, Oakland, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Chicago.
Writing for Vice and the Influence, formerly incarcerated writer Jeremy Galloway has more on the ongoing strikes. Here’s a clip:
Prior to the official strike kickoff, inmates at Holmes Correctional Institution, in the Florida panhandle, led an uprising that forced the facility to be shut down. More than 400 inmates participated in that rebellion, which the prison administration has linked to the national strikes.
As the list of facilities involved expands, the South continues to lead the way. Prisoners in multiple Alabama prisons, at least two other Florida prisons, Fluvanna women’s prison in Virginia, and prisoners in North Carolina and South Carolina all reportedly engaged in various forms of resistance. Most Georgia prisoners don’t work on Fridays, but some on-the-ground reports indicate that they plan to join the actions when their work week begins today (September 12).
But the South does not stand alone. More than 400 prisoners at Kinross Correctional Facility, Michigan, held a protest on the prison yard and caused property damage to the prison, prompting officials to transfer 150 of them to other facilities. Clallam Bay Correctional Center in Washington State is also said to be on lockdown after actions there.
Many women prisoners are involved: Those held at Central California Women’s Prison, a women’s prison in Nebraska, at Lincoln (Nebraska) Correctional Center, a women’s prison in Kansas, and at Merced Jail in California have either refused to work, are on hunger strike, and/or have led uprisings in their facilities, I’m told.
It’s significant that so much of the resistance is focused on women’s facilities (although this certainly isn’t without precedent: The 1974 Bedford Hills and 1975 North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women uprisings are two of the most significant events in US prison history). Women, especially young women of color, make up the fastest-growing corrections population, at least in local jails. And the history of resistance in US women’s prisons continues to rapidly unfold, even if the media pays it little attention.
The actions haven’t been limited to jails and prisons, either. Friends, family, and supporters of incarcerated people took to the streets across the country to express solidarity and support for the strikes. Atlanta, Arizona, Portland, Lucasville (Ohio), Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, St. Louis, New York, Providence, Richmond, Durham, Austin, Denver, Los Angeles, and plenty of other large and small US cities have seen protestors, sometimes numbering into the hundreds, take to the streets or picket prisons.
In Atlanta, where I live, about 50 people disrupted business Friday at Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Aramark—companies that have been accused of exploiting barely compensated incarcerated labor—during street protests. According to witnesses, police responded by trying to run over protesters and dousing protesters, bystanders, and one another with pepper spray.
In February Los Angeles Police officers shot and killed a Boyle Heights sixteen-year-old named Jose Mendez. According to the police, was driving a stolen car and carrying a sawed off shotgun.
The Los Angeles Times reported back in February that, according to Chief Charlie Beck, a description of the stolen car had been broadcast to LAPD officers. Several hours later, cops from the Hollenbeck station spotted the stolen vehicle and began following the car and its driver. The car pulled over and sixteen-year-old Mendez allegedly armed himself with a sawed off shotgun.
In a later account, an LAPD spokesperson said that Jose Mendez pointed the gun at one of the police officers, at which point police shot the sixteen-year-old multiple times and he died at the scene.
Now LA Weekly reporter Jason McGahan has broken the news about a surveilance video that has surfaced showing officers dragging Mendez’ body immediately after the shooting, from the private driveway where he was shot, down the sidewalk a distance of approximately 30 feet, for reasons that are unclear.
Attorney Arnoldo Casillas, who is representing Jose Mendez family in a civil suit, shared the video with the Weekly on the condition that they agreed not to publish the video itself online. But the publication was allowed to excerpt screen shots for publication
Here’s a clip from the Weekly’s story:
The video in question — which Mendez’s parents, Juan and Josefina Mendez, discovered the day after the shooting while visiting the scene with Casillas — was filmed by a security camera from a nearby apartment complex. Looking north to an area on the downhill slope of East Sixth Street, the video captures the black Honda Mendez was driving coming to a stop in a residential driveway. Immediately, a patrol car pulls in behind it. The glare from the cruiser’s headlights obstructs the camera’s view of the shooting, but in the last clear sequence prior to the shooting, at 10:42 p.m. on the video timestamp, two officers can be seen rapidly exiting the patrol car, their guns drawn and pointed.
The officers quickly climb out of the patrol car and appear to point their weapons toward the vehicle with Mendez still at the wheel. One officer circles around to the right of the parked Honda, and the other to the left. The police car’s lights obscure the rest of the incident from view.
Four and a half minutes later, at 10:46 p.m according to the video timestamp, two police officers are shown dragging Mendez’s body by the shoulders down East Sixth Street and laying him face-down on the sidewalk, about 30 feet away from the driveway where the traffic stop was conducted and the shooting had taken place moments before.
After officers dragged Mendez’ body, the video then shows one officer fishing what appears to be a cell phone out of the boy’s pocket, after which time, another officer handcuffs him. More officers arrive. Mendez does not move, nor does anyone appear to check his condition.
So, what if anything does this video mean? The Weekly talked to several experts to whom they showed the video. These experts gave various circumstances that could necessitate the moving of a body at the scene of such an incident. However, none of those circumstances seemed to be in evidence after the Mendez shooting.
One a former prosecutor, a deputy district attorney for Riverside County named Ambrosio Rodriguez, told McGahan, “I was in many officer-involved shootings, when [the victim or victims] were dead, and they’re treated like a homicide scene. There’s lots of little differences, but you cannot move a body. That’s tampering with evidence. You can’t do that…”
LAPD officials have not yet commented on the video.
The city will enter into a five-year agreement with Taser International Inc. to the tune of $31.2 million in equipment (including 4,400 cameras) and services. Another $23.7 million will go to Sprint for phones and data, and 4.3 million will be earmarked for what the Public Safety Committee Report designates as “infrastructure.” (The LAPD will also use a $1 million grant from the US Department of Justice, $3.1 million in unspent fiscal year 2015-2016 program funding, and $7 million from the 2016-2017 adopted budget.)
Once the body cams are implemented, the LAPD will be the largest department in the nation to attach cameras to its officers. About 860 officers are already wearing cameras because of an earlier pilot program.
Four times per year, the LAPD will also be required to report back on the status of camera implementation, along with a cost-benefit analysis.
Originally, L.A. Mayor Garcetti had promised to have cameras on LAPD officers by the end of the year to improve accountability by both police and citizens, and provide evidence in criminal trials. City council members, however, balked at the price tag and approval was delayed six months.
A study commissioned by the council and unveiled Tuesday predicted eventual cost savings from body cameras. Justice and Security Strategies, the consultant commissioned for the report, said LAPD can expect to pay less in litigation costs after body cameras roll out, since they could absolve officers accused of misconduct, and deter use of force by officers.
The plan includes a $31 million contract with Taser International, which will supply the cameras, uploading equipment and storage. The rest of the money will go to things like extra LAPD staff to review and manage the footage.
Garcetti hailed the decision.
“Today’s action by the City Council is an investment in my vision of a Los Angeles Police Department that leads in transparency and accountability — values that protect officers and everyday Angelenos, and that are fundamental to policing in the 21st century,” Garcetti said in a statement. “This is a historic moment for the LAPD, and I am proud of the leadership shown by everyone who played a part in getting us to this day.”
US SUPREMES VOTE TO ALLOW EVIDENCE FOUND AFTER UNLAWFUL STOPS
In a 5-3 decision on Monday, the US Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers can use evidence obtained during illegal stops in courts, if the searches were conducted after the officers found out that the defendants had outstanding arrest warrants.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a scathing dissent, arguing that the ruling would disproportionately impact people of color. “This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification and check it for outstanding traffic warrants — even if you are doing nothing wrong,” she wrote.
In the case, Utah v. Strieff, Salt Lake City narcoticts detective Douglas Fackrell unlawfully stopped Edward Strieff based on an anonymous tip about “narcotics activity.” The check Fackrell ran on Strieff turned up a warrant for a traffic violation. When Fackrell arrested and searched Strieff, he found meth and drug paraphernalia. The justices ruled that the drug evidence does not have to be suppressed, but can be used as evidence in court.
“The officer illegally stopped Strieff and immediately ran a warrant check,” said Sotomayor in her dissent. “The officer’s discovery of a warrant was not some intervening surprise that he could not have anticipated.”
Sotomayor pointed out that according to recent Department of Justice statistics, 16,000 of Ferguson, Missouri’s population of 21,000 had outstanding warrants.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg joined most of Sotomayor’s dissent, as well as Justice Elena Kagan’s separate dissent.
The question for the justices was whether the drugs must be suppressed given the unlawful stop or whether they could be used as evidence given the arrest warrant.
“Officer Fackrell was at most negligent,” Justice Thomas wrote, adding that “there is no evidence that Officer Fackrell’s illegal stop reflected flagrantly unlawful police misconduct.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the majority opinion.
In a dissent that cited W. E. B. Du Bois, James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Justice Sotomayor said the court had vastly expanded police power.
“The court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights,” she wrote. “Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification and check it for outstanding traffic warrants — even if you are doing nothing wrong.
“If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay,” she continued, “courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant.”
Justice Sotomayor added that many people were at risk. Federal and state databases show more than 7.8 million outstanding warrants, she wrote, “the vast majority of which appear to be for minor offenses.”
NOTEWORTHY CRIMINAL JUSTICE-RELATED CALIFORNIA LEGISLATIVE UPDATES
AB 2298, a bill to notify people included on California’s gang database, CalGang, passed out of the Senate Public Safety Committee, and has been re-referred to the Senate Committee on Appropriations. The bill passed through the Assembly earlier this month.
People who admit to law enforcement officers that they are gang members or who have gang-related tattoos are added to the database, but associating with known gang members and wearing clothing that might be gang-related also sends people into the CalGang database.
The bill also gives Californians the right to challenge their inclusion in the database, and removes people from the list who have been free of gang-related convictions for at least three years.
Advocates say the vague criteria often have the effect of penalizing people of color for living in the wrong neighborhood.
KAMALA HARRIS BACKS BILL TO DRASTICALLY LIMIT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR KIDS, AND ANOTHER TO EXPAND VOTING RIGHTS
On Monday California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced her support of a bill that would ensure that eligible inmates with felony convictions keep their right to vote while in jail (but not prison), as well as while under county supervision (but not parole).
“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and society, and yet for too long we have stripped certain individuals of that right,” AG Harris said.
And on Tuesday, Harris endorsed a bill to place significant limits on when, why, and for how long California kids can be locked in solitary. The bill, authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), would block guards from using isolation as a punishment, for convenience’s sake, or as a way to coerce kids, and would limit “room confinement” to four hours. Confinement would only become an option after other, less restrictive options had been exhausted (except when using those alternatives would put kids or staff in danger).
“Subjecting young people to prolonged periods of isolated confinement is cruel, inhumane and counterproductive to rehabilitation,” Harris said. “This unnecessary and punitive practice undermines the goal of helping this vulnerable young population become healthy and productive members of our society.”
Harris endorsed two other criminal justice reform bills aimed at reducing recidivism. The first, AB 1597, by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey), would allow inmates who haven’t been sentenced yet to participate in rehabilitative programs and earn good time credits toward a future sentence. The inmates’ use of these tools would not be admissible as evidence of their guilt.
The second bill, SB 1157 by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), would ensure that local detention facilities using video visitation would also allow a number of in-person visits for inmates, as well.
MCD, the LAPD’s busiest jail, was assigned approximately 121 detention officers and 51 police officers and processed more than 28,000 inmates. In conducting the review, the IG’s office went through 264 hours of footage from jail cameras, analyzing 198 cell block checks.
During 26 of the non-compliant checks, officers did not inspect the entire floor after entering a cell block. During the other 137 problematic checks, officers did not even go into the cell blocks, and frequently miscounted inmates.
LA Police Commissioner Robert Saltzman said the failure rate is indicative of “systemic failure,” the LA Times reports. Commission President Matt Johnson pointed out that after the IG illuminated these issues, the LAPD “immediately worked with the inspector general to fix them.”
Two weeks ago, the Police Commission reviewed video of a death—caused by suffocation and epilepsy—at the department’s Pacific Jail. The revelation that jail logs listed inaccurate inmate welfare check times when cross-referenced with video of the man’s death, brought on an internal investigation.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly estimated MCD’s jail population at more than 28,000. We meant to say that MCD processed more than 28,000 inmates in 2015.
SF MAYOR BOOTS EMBATTLED SFPD CHIEF AFTER FATAL SHOOTING
On Thursday, just a few short hours after San Francisco police officers shot and killed a woman during an arrest, SF Mayor Ed Lee announced the removal of SFPD Chief Greg Suhr.
“The progress we’ve made has been meaningful, but it hasn’t been fast enough—not for me, not for Greg, said Mayor Lee in a statement Thursday. “That’s why I have asked Chief Suhr for his resignation.”
The move follows months of protests over other controversial police shootings along with racist (and homophobic) text messages sent between officers. And then there has been the ongoing feud between Suhr and SF District Attorney George Gascón.
Earlier this month, five San Francisco protesters went on a hunger strike, calling for Suhr’s resignation, and decrying police brutality and the fatal shootings of Mario Woods, Alex Nieto, and other San Francisco residents of color.
Before Thursday’s fatal shooting of a reportedly unarmed 27-year-old black woman, officers were trying to remove from a stolen car, Mayor Lee said he was not planning on firing Suhr.
“I have previously expressed confidence in Chief Suhr because I know he agrees with and understands the need for reform,” Lee said. “Today I have arrived at a different conclusion to the question of how best to move forward.”
Citing the importance of improving trust between the department and community, Lee named 26-year department veteran Toney Chaplin as acting Chief of Police. “He’s established a record of commitment to the City’s diverse communities, serving at Mission and Taraval Stations, in the Gang Task Force, and running the Homicide division,” Lee said. “Toney has most recently helped establish our new Professional Standards and Principled Policing bureau, the arm of the department that focuses on accountability and transparency.”
LAPD UNION SUES DEPARTMENT, CHIEF, AND CITY OVER DISCIPLINE ISSUES
The Los Angeles Police Protective League-–the LAPD rank and file union—has filed a 57-page federal lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles, the LAPD, and Chief Charlie Beck over the department’s discipline process.
The LAPPL says Chief Beck has had a “corrupt influence” over the three-member discipline panel—the Board of Rights—that handles the more serious discipline cases in which officers may be fired or given a long-term suspension. The police union’s lawsuit accuses Beck of pressuring the board members to find officers guilty.
Chief Beck appeared on KNX 1070, and argued that in over half of the Board of Rights discipline hearings, the panel did not follow his discipline recommendations to fire officers.
“In 26 of those 184 cases, the board found the officers not guilty. And in 67 of them, they found them guilty, but then applied a penalty that’s less than firing,” Beck said. “…If that’s a system that I’m corrupting, then I’m not doing a very good job of it.”
Beck continued, telling KNX he felt the lawsuit was a personal attack.
The lawsuit also calls for the Board of Rights—which is currently comprised of two LAPD officials and one civilian—to change to an all-civilian board. Having two high-ranking officials on the board is a violation of officers’ 14th Amendment right to due process, according to the lawsuit, because the officials “owe their rank to the chief.”
The union rejected that it was seeking more favorable outcomes by having more civilians on the boards. Craig Lally, the union president, said the disciplinary statistics raised by Beck were invalid because many officers reach settlements with the board, pleading guilty to lesser misconduct charges in fear that the command officers will fire them at Beck’s behest.
Lally alleged that Beck often will urge Board of Rights members to terminate officers involved in high-profile misconduct cases as a way of placating the public following controversial incidents.
He pointed to the firing of former LAPD Det. Frank Lyga, who was caught on tape making racially charged remarks about a prominent black civil rights attorney and insulting comments about a female LAPD captain. Lyga, who is white, also made insensitive comments about a black officer, Kevin Gaines, whom he fatally shot during a 1997 traffic dispute. Lyga was working in an undercover narcotics detail when he became involved in the argument with Gaines, who was off duty. Neither knew the other was a police officer.
Lally said that Lyga should not have been fired, but argued that his case was one of several in which Beck pushed for a termination in order to gain a public relations victory.
“They just think it’s easier for them to terminate the officer and basically wash their hands of it. … They can say that they’ve done something to fix the problem,” Lally said.
During a news conference, Lally said the union had nearly reached an agreement with the mayor and city attorney’s office this month to alter the disciplinary process and replace uniformed Board of Rights members with civilians.
But the deal fell apart, according to Lally, who said the city attorney’s office suggested the proposed changes might not be legal but did not explain why when asked by the union.
Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer, said the union was never in negotiations with his office. The union spoke with Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, which may have requested advice from the city attorney, Wilcox said.
“While I cannot discuss advice we provided, L.A. voters adopted a clear and legally-sound charter provision prescribing the composition of the LAPD Board of Rights,” Wilcox said in an email. “Of course, policy leaders and voters could amend the charter to alter that provision as early as November.”
STUDY: WHILE STATES’ PRISON POPULATIONS ARE LOWER THAN IN 2010, THERE ARE MORE PEOPLE ACTUALLY GOING TO PRISON
Looking at national incarceration data, criminologist John Pfaff found that if you exclude California—which has significantly reduced its prison population via a federal court order—incarceration rates are actually rising, not declining.
Pfaff found that while sentences have gotten shorter, and the conversation about ending mass incarceration has grown louder, there were actually more people admitted into prison in 2014 than in 2010. Yes, overall prison population numbers dropped by 1.9% during that time frame, but that seems to have overshadowed the fact that more people were sent to prison—an increase of about 6,225 in state prison admissions (or 1.2%), excluding California.
“…Somehow this has completely fallen thru the cracks of our reform discussion. MORE ppl harmed by prison, but LESS visibly so,” Pfaff wrote in a series of tweets about his findings.
Pfaff says the data he compared “only emphasizes again how vitally important regulating prosecutors is, and how shocking it is that NO ONE is doing this.”
…although fewer people are in prison on any given day, more people are still dealing with the terrible consequences of getting caught up in the justice system, particularly a criminal record that makes it harder to get a job, vote, get housing, and much more.
What’s worse, admissions into prison seem to be going up even as the country goes through a nationwide crime drop — and the research shows that mass incarceration has only played a small role, if any, in the crime drop over the past several years.
The research, drop in crime, and heavy financial and social costs of mass incarceration have pushed political leaders and activists from both parties to call for criminal justice reform. But Pfaff’s analysis shows that it’s not enough, as most reform has only focused on shortening prison sentences. The actors in the criminal justice system — especially prosecutors — also need to start sending fewer people to prison, especially for crimes that don’t warrant such a serious punishment. And if they aren’t willing to do it, maybe lawmakers and the public should take steps to force them to be less aggressive.
YET ANOTHER UNDER-THE-RADAR CALIFORNIA “TRAILER BILL” TO CONCEAL RECORDS WHEN KIDS ARE KILLED
A “trailer bill” attached to the latest California budget proposal would close off public access to records regarding the deaths of children involved in the child welfare system.
The bill, introduced by the California Department of Social Services Director Will Lightbourne would ease deadlines for releasing the child death records and keep social workers’ identities secret in such cases. Information on the family’s history within the child welfare system would be limited, and info provided by witnesses would be removed from the record.
According to state officials, the bill would protect the children and adults in the family who were not responsible for the death. Listening to proponents and opponents debate the issue at a hearing, State Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) said “This is an item that has…impassioned support and heated opposition. Clearly it is not cooked enough.”
Since the state implemented the law to increase transparency in 2008, reporters have accessed social worker case notes and other files that revealed inadequacies in the state’s child welfare system, including instances of social workers disregarding policies and allowing children to remain in conditions that proved fatal.
In response to news stories based on those reports, state and county officials implemented a battery of child protection reforms that child welfare advocates credit with reducing the number of children who die because of abuse and neglect.
Earlier this year, Los Angeles County prosecutors filed criminal charges against four social workers who handled the case of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in the months before he was tortured and killed. The case was first reported in The Times based on information that included documents released through the disclosure law.
The social workers union has staged protests against the criminal charges and worked with the administration to craft the bill that would reduce public scrutiny of the case files for child fatalities. The state child welfare directors association also supports the administration’s bill.
The bill currently under consideration would relax deadlines for the release of records and keep the names of social workers secret. It would deny the public access to original case notes, instead providing abbreviated summaries of how the government attempted to protect vulnerable children.
LAPD COMMISSION SAYS FATAL SHOOTING OF VENICE HOMELESS MAN VIOLATED LAPD POLICY
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Commission sided with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, unanimously deciding that LAPD officer Clifford Proctor’s fatal shooting of an unarmed homeless man, Brendon Glenn, was an unjustified use of deadly force.
Video and other evidence from the May 2015 shooting led police investigators to determine that during an altercation, Proctor shot 29-year-old Glenn twice in the back while Glenn was lying on his stomach on the ground. Proctor said he believed Glenn was trying to take his partner’s gun, but the video evidence did not show Glenn’s hand to be on or near the holster, nor did Proctor’s partner do anything to indicate Glenn was going after his gun, according to the report.
In January, Chief Beck recommended that the LA County District Attorney’s Office charge Proctor in the death of Glenn. It was the first time the chief had recommended criminal charges for a fatal on-duty shooting.
The decision capped an 11-month review of Glenn’s death, one of several shootings by LAPD officers last year that fueled criticism of police and how officers use force, particularly against African Americans. Glenn was black, as is Proctor.
The ruling also renewed pressure on L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey to file criminal charges against Proctor. This year, Beck said he had urged Lacey to charge Proctor. It was the first time as chief that Beck has called for charges against one of his officers in a fatal on-duty shooting.
Such prosecutions are rare in L.A. County, where the district attorney’s office hasn’t charged a law enforcement officer in an on-duty shooting in 15 years. An office spokeswoman said the case was still being reviewed.
Within hours of the Police Commission’s decision, local activists again called for Lacey to prosecute Proctor. Najee Ali said the ruling, coupled with Beck’s earlier recommendation, was further proof that the district attorney needed to act.
“This is a true litmus test for Lacey,” he said.
Beck said the commission’s decision “certainly supports” what he told the district attorney.
“I find many times that shootings are out of policy and they don’t reflect criminal charges,” he said. “But that’s not the case in this one.”
CA BILL WOULD MAKE CA CITIES AND COUNTIES DUMP THEIR CONTRACTS WITH FOR-PROFIT IMMIGRANT DETENTION CENTERS
A new California bill sponsored by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) would block cities and counties from contracting with controversial for-profit prison companies running immigrant detention centers.
“Our state and local governments should not be complicit in this awful practice of profiting off of human suffering,” Lara said. “This critical first-in-the-nation legislation would make the currently unenforceable national immigration standards the law of the land in the golden state.”
Four municipalities, including cash-strapped Adelanto, are contracting with private detention centers and would be affected by the bill.
The small city of Adelanto in San Bernardino County contracts with the scandal-plagued GEO Group, which runs a city jail and the Adelanto Detention Facility, where undocumented immigrants are held. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement pays Adelanto about $4 million a month to hold around 1,200 immigrants in its detention center. (All-told, ICE holds 62% of its detainees in for-profit detention centers.)
City Councilman John Woodard says a fourth of the city’s income comes from its contracts with the private prison group.
GEO Group, the second largest for-profit prison operator, is often accused of medical neglect and abuse, and at Adelanto and other facilities, enforces lock-up quotas—which trigger financial penalties for empty jail and prison beds.
The bill would also require the immigrant detention facilities to comply with (currently optional) federal standards, and would make it easier for immigrants to take legal action against the private prisons for rights violations.
With the Adelanto facility’s daily population averaging roughly 1,200 and based on the per-diem rate, ICE pays up to about $4 million a month — and more if the detention center is filled to its 1,940-detainee capacity.
But a bill sponsored by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) could put an end to Adelanto’s immigrant detention contract.
“For far too long, our immigration system has promoted profits over people,” Lara told KPCC. “The goal is to prohibit these for-profit companies from profiting off the backs of immigrants.”
Cities like Adelanto depend on detention space revenue. In Adelanto, which nearly went bankrupt last year, City Council member John “Bug” Woodard, a self-described Tea Party Republican, said the GEO contracts are vital to the city’s economy.
“I think a good 25 percent of our income comes from those jailhouses,” Woodard said. “GEO is an important part of this community, and any idiot up in Sacramento that would like us not to do business with them, they’ve got their heads where the sun don’t shine.”
PHASE TWO ANNOUNCED IN MACARTHUR FOUNDATION NATIONAL CHALLENGE TO REFORM JAILS
The MacArthur Foundation whittled down 11 jurisdictions from an original group of 20 selected in 2015 to be mentored by experts as they created plans to reform their local jail systems.
The 11 jurisdictions are:
- Charleston County, SC
- Harris County, TX
- Lucas County, OH
- Milwaukee County, WI
- New Orleans, LA
- New York City, NY
- Philadelphia, PA
- Pima County, AZ
- Spokane County, WA
- State of Connecticut
- St. Louis County, MO
Los Angeles and the other eight remaining counties will receive $150,000 grants, as well as technical assistance from experts, to keep up their reform efforts as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge Network.